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How Do I Know If I’m Reading the Bible Correctly?

Written By Tyler Edwards, USA

Tyler Edwards is a pastor, author, and husband. He has served in full-time ministry since 2006. He currently works as the Discipleship Pastor of Carolina Forest Community Church in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. He is passionate about introducing people to and helping them grow in the Gospel. He is also the author of Zombie Church: Breathing Life Back Into the Body of Christ.

When I was applying to colleges years ago, I remember waiting to get my acceptance letter. One day, I sorted through stacks of junk mail to find an envelope with a college logo at the top. I tore open the letter and read it carefully. Unlike the other mail, this wasn’t some marketing ad to sell me more stuff I didn’t want. No, this letter was important—it would determine my future.

Isn’t that the way things go? We are barraged with messages through every sort of medium imaginable, but some messages are just more important than others.

The Bible is the most important thing we will ever read. What makes it so important? It’s like a long-distance love letter where God shares His love, His heart and desires with us. Reading it allows us to grow closer to Him and to understand how to love Him until the day that we can be with Him. So, with great anticipation, Christians should be not just looking over the words, but really trying to study and understand what God is saying to us through them.

Even so, reading the Bible can still feel like a daunting task. How do I know I’m reading it correctly? What if I twist God’s words to mean something He isn’t saying? It’s no surprise that many Christians don’t read their Bible regularly because they don’t have the right tools to help them make sense of it. But reading the Bible doesn’t have to be scary.

Here are a few simple tools that can help us fairly and accurately understand what God is saying.

 

Two Rules for Reading the Bible

Rule number one: What is the author’s intended meaning?

Have you ever said something that got taken the wrong way? Like telling a girl, “You look nice today.” But she responds, “Today? Like I don’t look nice most of the time?”

All communication requires interpretation. The listener needs to understand what the speaker is trying to say. This applies to all communication. Don’t just look at it—think about what the author is trying to communicate and why!

Rule number two: Context is king

If we do not consider the information’s context, we are prone to misunderstand it. When we read a passage, the first step is to look at what comes before it, and what comes after it. This can give us a better idea of what God is saying.

Let’s be careful not to take biblical passages out of their historical context. After all, the Bible wasn’t written to us—it was preserved for us. Every book of the Bible had an original audience, real people who lived long before our great-grandparents were even born. To understand what the Bible is saying, to apply God’s truths properly in our modern-day lives, we should first understand what the author was saying to his original audience.

The other day I was sitting next to my wife when she got a call. I didn’t see who it was, but I was curious. I listened. My wife’s tone said it was her mother, and she started talking about baby stuff. Hearing just one half of the conversation, I was able to piece together the context. The only thing I didn’t know was what her mother said. Even that, I could figure out partially based on my wife’s responses.

That’s what we do with Scripture. We fill in the gaps responsibly. There are some great tools that help with that: study Bibles, commentaries, biblical dictionaries. These tools give us a better understanding of the other side of the conversation.

 

Applying the Rules to Philippians 4:13

Let’s look at an example:

I can do all things through him who strengthens me (Philippians 4:13, ESV).

This verse makes for a great motivational poster. I used to quote this to try and pass tests I didn’t want to study for. But it doesn’t really mean what I thought it means. After all, if I went to the gym and loaded 500lbs onto the bench, then quoted this verse, would I suddenly be able to lift 500lbs? No! That weight is going to come crashing down on me, hard. But why? Shouldn’t lifting 500lbs fall under the umbrella of “all things”?

Did I not have enough faith? Did Jesus fail me? . . . or perhaps, did I misunderstand the text?

If we apply our two rules and go back to read the verses leading up to Philippians 4:13, the picture gets a little clearer.

I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me (Philippians 4:10-13, ESV).

In context, Paul is talking about plenty, hunger, abundance and need—the modern day equivalent to finances (Philippians 4:12, ESV). The earlier verses tell us that Paul has learned to be content in all things. Whether rich and comfortable or poor and hungry, he can endure the hardships and challenges of this life for the sake of the gospel because Jesus gives him the strength to be content regardless of his circumstances. Paul is showing us how to do something incredible. Philippians 4:13 isn’t about turning us into superman. It’s about contentment.

 

Getting to Know God Better

When we don’t read the Word of God in context, we can easily (and sometimes unconsciously) make promises for God that God didn’t make. When those promises don’t come true, we’re tempted to doubt God instead of really seeing who He is. Jesus says that eternal life is knowing God (John 17:3). All that we live for, hope for, desire, and pursue in the Christian life should be built on the foundation of our relationship with God.

I’ve learned that when I’m faithful in searching for context and intent, reading the Bible actually helps me know God better because I’m not just hearing His Word, I’m continually learning to understand it. The amazing thing is, the more we know God, the more we recognize His love for us and appreciate the grace He has given us.

So, as challenging as it can be to read the Bible, the best thing we can do is to open that love letter from God, and just start reading what He says to us!

Editor’s Picks: Best of What Makes You Beautiful

Try as we might to stop it, modern society’s ever-changing standards of beauty seem to constantly creep into our thinking and impression of our self-worth. But God, as our creator, designed each of us exactly the way that we are, with great intention.

What do we do when we struggle to like how He’s made us?

The Upside Down Kingdom

Title: The Upside Down Kingdom
Artwork by: YMI X Zach Stuef (@stuefcreative)
Description: The call to follow Jesus often means going against the grain of the culture that we are accustomed to. The world may tell us to put our own interests first, but Jesus says we are to look out for the interests of one another (Phillipians 2:4). Society says we are to follow our dreams for a fulfilling life, but Jesus says the opposite—a fulfilling life comes when we lay our lives down to follow Him (Matthew 16:25). Jesus radically challenges the pattern of this world, and with it, our realities of this earth. Making sense of His commands can be difficult, but it is worth pursuing.

Join us as we explore the challenges Jesus puts out for His followers, and glean the life-changing experience of living a life opposite to what the world offers.

 

Lose All to Gain All

But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ. (Philippians 3:7-8)

We are constantly on the look-out to gain all kinds of earthly pleasures; whether it be a new holiday experience, growing our social media presence and followers, or eating at the latest restaurants. But our frenzy to collect these temporal experiences, often leave us empty and dissatisfied, and could see us miss out on the One person who truly matters—Jesus. What are you chasing at the moment that has blinded you to Jesus?

 

 

Weak Made Strong

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. (2 Cor 12:9)

We are taught to be strong, independent, and self-sufficient. The idea of relying on others and celebrating our weaknesses can seem baffling. But with Jesus, it’s the reverse. Scripture says we are strong when we are weak. It is when we are at the end of our tether that the power of God shines through. When was the last time you asked God for His grace and strength to see you through a tough spot, instead of relying on your own?

 

 

The Last Will Be First

“So the last will be first, and the first will be last.” (Matthew 20:16)

We #humblebrag about our accomplishments, but a quiet satisfaction washes over us as we compare our standing to other people whom we perceive as lagging behind in their life. However, Heaven operates on a different system, and God doesn’t rank a person based on their hard work or social standing. Eternal life is available to all who accepts Jesus as their Savior, and cannot be bought with money or hard work. Therefore, let’s be careful about sizing people up based on where they are in life, knowing that we’re all equal in the eyes of God. Is there someone we have to stop judging?

 

 

Die to Live
Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. (John 12:24)

We are all dying to live longer in this world. We invest in healthy diets, read up on cancer prevention methods, and tick off our bucket list to ensure we have the most enjoyable time on earth. But are we aware of who or what we are really living for? Jesus laid His life down to redeem us from our sins, which shows His great love for us. It’s in His death that we are made alive. What fleshly desires do you have to put to death today to fully follow Jesus?

 

 

Give to Receive

In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive. (Acts 20:35)

 We feel loved, valued, and #blessed when we are showered with gifts or when people go the extra mile to help us with a favor. But Scripture’s view of feeling #blessed is that “it is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). 

Giving requires a sacrifice on our part, but we’re able to do so because we have a generous Father who does not withhold any good gift from us (James 1:17), but supplies us with all our needs (Philippians 4:19). As we generously sow into the lives of others, they’ll see that God is our Provider, and there is no lack in Him. In what areas can you generously give to someone today?

 

 

Free from Sin, Slaves to Righteousness

You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness. (Romans 6:18)

We must carefully sift through the deluge of information the world offers on a daily basis. Because if we are not careful, we will find ourselves soaking in the views of the world and drinking in various earthly desires. And soon, we become ensnared by sin. The good news is, Scripture says we have been set free of sin, and that we are no longer slaves to this world, but to righteousness. We are now free to lead a life of purity, integrity, and virtue.  What sins of the world are you enslaved by that you need to break free from today? 

 

 

Humbled To Be Raised

Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will lift you up. (James 4:10)

The world says we are to raise ourselves up before men, which can lead to an overinflated ego and a perverse sense of self-worth. We want to win arguments, are reluctant to back down from our opinions, and refuse to be the first to apologize. However, the opposite is true in God’s eyes. He values a spirit that is humble, teachable, and moldable, and when we humble ourselves before Him, that’s when He will lift us up (James 4:10) What can we do today to humble ourselves before God?

 

 

Losing Life To Find It
Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it. (Matthew 10:39)

It is perplexing to think that we have to first lose our life in order to gain it. But that is essentially what is required of us the moment we accept Christ’s offer of salvation. We enter His Kingdom as new creations, shedding our old life in the process. The initial period of realizing we have been set free can leave us on a high, but as time passes, with trials and tribulations, are we still as excited about following God as we were when we first accepted Him? Or have we allowed worldly worries and troubles to cloud us from seeking the Kingdom’s true treasures? 

 

Editor’s Picks: Best of “Why Do I Worship?”

We focused the last quarter on loving God with all of our soul. We asked our contributors. . .why do you worship?